Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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This Means War

January 24, 2008

Maazel and his cast of thousands
Photo: mine 2008
In a way it seems unfair to pick on Lorin Maazel these days. This is a popular pastime in print and on the internet and blaming him for any number of ills in performances of all stripes seems all too commonplace. But when you see a piece presented as unremarkably as Britten’s War Requiem was on Thursday night with the LA Philharmonic under his guidance, it’s also hard to avoid. On break from performances of Die Walküre at the Metropolitan Opera, Maazel led the Philharmonic for the first time in nearly thirty years. Also on stage were the combined resources of the LA Master Chorale and Children’s Chorale as well as three soloists including soprano Nancy Gustafson, tenor Vale Rideout, and baritone Ian Greenlaw. LA Phil Assistant Conductor Lionel Bringuier led the smaller chamber ensemble that punctuates the Requiem throughout. But all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't quite make all the pieces of Britten's massive work come together.

So what went wrong? I’m not exactly sure. It’s just that the whole thing seemed rather stale and mawkish. Maybe it was just the lack of a certain British quality to the proceedings. Certainly the work requires a certain amount of reserve, but tonight Maazel and the orchestra just seemed distant and hollow. Much of the first half came off as didactic – all the elements were there and the music sounded good but it didn't hit the mark. The Wilfred Owen texts, as beautiful as they are, almost seemed farcical at times as if taken out of a bad student play. There were bright spots, though. Gustafson stood out and the Master Chorale and Children’s chorale seemed to rise above it all, providing the lion’s share of the evening's memorable moments. Even the silly fade to black in the final bars with a sole spotlight on the conductor couldn’t detract from the wonderful singing of the chorale. Still, with current events what they are, such a hollow War Requiem seems like a missed opportunity.

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Thanks for your kind comments about the Master Chorale. I'm wondering exactly what you meant by "Gustafson stood out." She sang flat throughout, scooped, cut notes short, and carried her heavy voice into the top of the staff. She sounded uncomfortable singing this rep.
You have a fair point and certainly were in a better position to hear her. My reaction may have been based more on the fact that I found her less objectionable than the other soloists and was therefore less irritated. However, there is no doubt that the LAMC was the highlight of the evening.
This is the fourth time that I have been involved in a production of the War Requiem and so it is fair to say that I know the work intimately. I am puzzled why Maazur chose to ignore so many of Brittens tempos and articulations which rendered the performance under his baton as dull and bland.
I have never seen a conductor give so little, ignore the performing forces more or be so unprepared as he was. He conducted like he was asleep, made a gigantic miscue for the orchestra which almost resulted in a melt down on opening night. He was less than inspiring and actually got in the way of the choruses, the soloists and the orchestra. I was insulted by his
demeanor, his lack of caring and his ignorance of the score.
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